Hills & Gardens: Re-Repair of P.S. 29 Questioned

March 28, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Trudy Whitman

In the summer of 2000, I wrote in these pages about a months-long renovation taking place at P.S. 29, my across-the-street neighbor on Baltic. The job included roof repair, repointing, and asbestos removal. The building was scaffolded and covered with black protective mesh on all four sides. It was noisy, dusty work, but neighbors understood that repairs on the old school building were necessary — even shamefully overdue. When my children attended P.S. 29, a number of the fifth-floor classrooms were unusable because the leaky roof led to sections of the plaster ceiling falling to the floor.

But then summer ended, children returned to school, and the construction timetable shifted; crews were busy from late afternoon through late evening. It was never too late, it seemed, for a workman to take a drill to the old mortar between the red bricks of the facade. Neighbors’ calls to the School Construction Authority (SCA) led only to notices in our mailboxes specifying that work wouldn’t cease until midnight — an hour later than we were initially told.

It wasn’t until Cobble Hill Association President Roy Sloane dashed a note off to the SCA and slipped a word to former City Council Member Stephen DiBrienza that neighbors received a modicum of relief. There are contracts for jobs such as this, we learned, and the contract for this job read that work had to stop at 10 p.m. Cleanup could proceed for another hour.

The cost of the repair job in 2000 was $4.9 million, according to Frank Thomas, a Department of Education spokesperson, whom I interviewed via telephone.

A little over a decade later, the scaffolds have returned to P.S. 29. Flyers in our mailboxes inform us that the work will include exterior masonry, roof and parapet replacement, flood elimination, and may also require asbestos abatement. We are assured that the abatement work will be performed by a licensed contractor and managed by an environmental consulting firm. Air quality will be monitored, according to the SCA, with test results available at the school. At a meeting at P.S. 29 on February 16, parents were informed that the expected completion date for the project is August 2013.

Frank Thomas revealed that the estimated cost for the 2012-13 is $9.2 million.

The question, of course, is why the renovations that took place in 2000 weren’t sufficient for curing the school’s ailments in the first place?

A neighbor has learned that the current project is referred to as “one and done” — a total rather than a piecemeal fix, while the 2000 job was classified as “repairs.” In the next year and a half the entire roof and all the parapets will be completely replaced.

And the work entails much more than repointing, observed P.S. 29 principal Melanie Woods during a telephone interview. Workmen will be “sealing the envelope,” she said, meaning that the façade will not only be repointed but entirely rebricked from the third floor up. “They will be replacing thousands upon thousands of bricks,” Woods said.

Although the school children will take some hard knocks, such as the temporary loss of the student garden that was high-fived a few years ago at a schoolyard press conference headlined by Mayor Bloomberg and celebrity chef Rachael Ray, after school activities and PTA meetings will not be curtailed. More than half of the newly renovated playground also remains open for school and community use. Principal Woods requested that white rather than black mesh be used to drape the school so that more natural light reaches the classrooms.

Unfortunately PCBs, a potential health hazard, identified in classroom overhead lighting will not be addressed during these repairs. “PCB work is independent of this project,” Thomas said. At this time, there is no date set for lighting replacement at P.S. 29.

Melanie Woods added that parents and faculty are also concerned about the possibility of dangerous molds that might exist in the school due to long-term basement flooding. A parent group is meeting to discuss how to address this worry and will soon communicate their conclusions to others via the P.S. 29 website, she said.

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